Inferior Production Choices Make This Unsalvageable
Ewan McGregor stars in dual roles as Jesus and Satan in Colombian director Rodrigo Garcia’s new film Last Days in the Desert. Garcia’s small indie character study is an account of the temptations Jesus faced during his 40 days of fasting and praying in the desert. An intriguing premise, with a high profile casting decision to have McGregor balance dueling lead roles is hampered by poor writing and even worse directorial execution.
Writer/director Rodrigo Garcia employs his lens with heavy use of long, slow panning shots, but without obvious purpose. The result is a sluggish film with an especially plodding middle act, devoid of any engagement for the audience. Without a doubt, many viewers’ attention will drift away as this lethargic film continues on without evident reason.
Having contributed to such films as The Revenant, Gravity, The Tree of Life, Children of Men, and The New World, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki surprisingly underperforms in Last Days in the Desert. Filmed in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in Southern California, images on screen are desolate and gray; but don’t have the brilliance you’d expect from the film’s premise or from Lubezki’s professional history. Jesus wandering the desert with the Devil sounds like an easy win for cinematic grandeur, but Last Days in the Desert shows nothing exceptional.
Deliberate and lazy, Last Days in the Desert has a promising but ultimately undeveloped script. Dense, ambiguous dialogue throughout is accompanied by some mismatched scenes that seem out of place in the time of Christ. Of particular issue is the scene of Tye Sheridan’s ‘Son’ and his repetitive vocal proclamations of ‘I’m not a bad son!’. It is awkwardly shot and even more awkwardly acted. Garcia writes Last Days in the Desert with a calculated ‘indie’ ambiguity that verges on overtly self-aware; with character names that include simply ‘Son’, ‘Father’, and ‘Mother’.
The best parts of Last Days in the Desert are the back and forth scenes between McGregor’s Jesus and the Devil, but these are sparse. Spending less time on desert shots and more time developing these exchanges would have made Last Days in the Desert a much more interesting watch.
Poor production decisions regarding casting, design, and cheap special effects round out Last Days in the Desert; leaving no questions about how much of a miss this film is. Tye Sheridan, a great young actor in Mud and Joe, doesn’t look suited in his role as ‘Son’; and begs the question about the actor’s place or ability to excel in historical period pieces. The on-screen talent’s costumes, regardless of authenticity, are distracting and detract from the viewing experience. Finally, Garcia uses computer assisted effects in scenes with a beetle and with a pack of desert wolves. The production of these computer generated effects are plainly bad, and don’t pass the eye test for realism in 2016.
- Directing: 6/10 -Lethargic pacing kills the second and third acts
- Cinematography: 6/10 – No technical faults, but missed opportunities
- Screenwriting: 4/10 – Encouraging scenes of Ewan McGregor acting in dual roles is sabotaged by uneven writing
- Acting: 5/10 – With a small cast, everyone needs to be great and that isn’t the case here
- Production: 4/10 – Questionable costume choices and bad CGI
4/10 – A compelling concept is weighed down by poor decisions all around, making Last Days in the Desert a film that can be missed without any regret.